East Xtra: Interstate a fast route to playoffs for Yough
Share with others:
As Mark Crovak described it, the Yough football team took a lot of lumps during his first season as head coach two years ago.
A lot of freshmen played that season and the Cougars did not win a game.
A year ago, the Cougars were a little older, and that experience earned them two checks in the win column.
Heading into this season, Crovak is hopeful another year of seasoning adds to even more victories and perhaps a spot in the postseason.
"We hope so. Whether that happens remains to be seen," Crovak said. "Getting out of the box fast is going to be important for our confidence. Our goal obviously is to make the [WPIAL] playoffs. At the end of the season, if we're playing for something, we'll be very happy."
Yough appears to have a legitimate shot to make its first playoff appearance since 2008. Sprinting to a quick start is very possible, too.
The Cougars open play in the Class AA Interstate Conference with games against Charleroi Area and Brownsville Area, the two teams that finished below them in the conference standings last season.
The Cougars are an optimistic bunch, which isn't a surprise considering they return eight starters on offense and seven on defense. Offensively, the team made huge strides last season. In Crovak's first season, the Cougars averaged a woeful 9.8 points per game. That number nearly doubled last season, as it increased to 18.9
Another big jump could take place this season with the return of a 1,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher. Junior quarterback Tyler Donahue completed 79 of 165 passes for 1,156 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Senior running back Christian Williams, a 5-foot-11, 215 pounder, averaged 6.8 yards per carry on his way to 1,002 yards and four touchdowns last season.
"It's tremendous having both of those guys back," Crovak said. "Tyler is only a junior. He started games as a freshman, so he's a three-year starter. Christian is just a big, powerful guy. His speed is deceptive, but I'd say he's better between the tackles than on sweeps. He's definitely a power runner.
"It builds confidence for the entire team having those guys in the positions they are in."
Although the Cougars return their top quarterback and running back, they must replace wide receiver Ben Sweeney, who had team highs of 37 catches for 709 yards and five touchdowns last season. Playing bigger roles will be senior wide receivers Ben D'Amico and Mike Reuss, who finished third and fourth in receptions last season. Crovak said they figure to get the majority of the touches.
"If you see them with pads, they look like twins," Crovak said. "They look the same, but the numbers are different. Both are speedy, have good hands and run good routes. We have some weapons."
The offensive line returns three starters, led by senior guard Dustin Sanner, a three-year starter whom Crovak called one of the team leaders. Junior tackle Jake Brundage is the line's "best technician," according to Crovak. Also back is junior tackle Chandler Daniel.
There is plenty of room for improvement defensively. The Cougars surrendered 34 points per game last season, the second-worst mark in the conference. At one point, they allowed at least 42 points in four consecutive games.
One of the top defensive players is sophomore nose guard Tom Sever, who Crovak said "is going to make life tough for centers."
The secondary could be the strongest unit on the defense. That group includes Reuss and junior Joe Pleva at cornerback, and D'Amico and Donahue at safety. A player to keep an eye on is sophomore Clay Waldron, who Crovak said can play anywhere in the secondary, as well as linebacker.
Crovak gave his team mixed reviews in scrimmages against Laurel Highlands and Elizabeth Forward, two Class AAA programs.
"We played fairly well in the first one and the second one was not so good," he said. "Hopefully, we can get more consistent."